A recent report published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology says that half of the middle-aged population in the country has clogged arteries. They don’t even have any serious diseases; they don’t smoke or have any weight-related issues. Still, they have higher cholesterol levels in their blood. It means that you need not have any other diseases to have raised cholesterol levels. Cholesterol is, in the majority of the cases, a clear side effect of a non-healthy lifestyle rather than an aftermath of any diseases. We need to know how exactly we may get high cholesterol levels and what we can do to bring it down to a healthy level.
About Cholesterol – HDL & LDL
Cholesterol is the collective term that we generally use. The body cholesterol actually has got 3 components- triglycerides, LDL and HDL. What we call the ‘cholesterol’ are the triglycerides and low-density lipoprotein or LDL. HDL or high-density lipoprotein, on the other hand, is the good one among the three. You can have higher HDL but never the other two.
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There are 2 sources of cholesterol. First of all, our body makes cholesterol inside the liver. The second source is food that contains a high amount of cholesterol. Cholesterol is not always the bad thing. It is just that our body cannot utilize the excess amount of cholesterol and deposits it in the unnecessary areas of the arteries. This will eventually lead to heart diseases.
Causes of high cholesterol
There are several reasons why one may have high levels of blood cholesterol. Causes like heredity and age are something that we have no control over. We may not be able to stop the cholesterol hike due to these factors. But for the other causes, we can have some or complete control over them.
- Heredity: If your parents, grandparents, brother or sister have the cholesterol problem, you have all chances of getting the same. This condition is known as familial hypercholesterolemia.
- Age and gender: Age slows down the body. Men tend to have increased cholesterol levels until they reach a certain age above 60. Later, their numbers go steady. Women may have higher HDL, the good cholesterol when they are younger but after menopause, the cholesterol in women tends to go higher, especially the LDL.
- Diet: Diet is one of the major causes of high cholesterol. The body absorbs cholesterol that is available from the food. It comes mostly from animal-based foods like red meat; sausages etc that has saturated fats. The saturated fats increase cholesterol levels. Dairy products, oils like coconut oil, palm oil, fried foods etc contain these unhealthy saturated fats.
- Weight: Though the body weight is not a direct reason for high cholesterol, overweight people are at the risk of having bad LDL levels. People with love handles and those who overeat and are idle may later have higher cholesterol levels.
- Stress: It manipulates the body to force the liver into producing more bad cholesterol or LDL. Stress reduced the processing of the lipids and sugar to make triglycerides and fatty acids. Stress eating is another cause of high cholesterol.
- Alcohol: Alcohol can raise the triglyceride content and LDL level in the blood.
- Smoking: Smoking lowers the protective cholesterol – HDL levels. Reduced HDL will lead to increase in the bad cholesterol. Smoking can increase the plaque deposits on the blood vessel walls.
- Lack of physical activities: Physical activities have magical effects inside the body. When we do not do any activities, it can make our body sluggish. The body accumulates all the food that we eat. The accumulated extra pounds of weight will gradually increase the bad cholesterol levels in the blood.
- Diseases: High cholesterol is also a result of other diseases such as diabetes, kidney diseases, hypothyroidism, liver diseases etc. Each of these diseases has its impact on the body that favors the growth of bad cholesterol and triglycerides.
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Diabetes lowers the good cholesterol level and increases the bad cholesterol as well as the triglycerides.
- Hypothyroidism reduces metabolism and makes the body unable to process the cholesterol leading to its increase in the blood.
- Liver diseases slow down the processing of the cholesterol, that can lead to an increase in its quantity.
- Kidney diseases lead to high triglyceride levels due to its reduced clearance from the body. Kidney failure can lower certain enzyme activities. One such enzyme happens to be the one that eliminates the triglycerides.
Treatment for high cholesterol
There are only 2 treatment ways for high cholesterol. First one is to change the lifestyle and bring major changes in the dietary habits. The second option is to rely on medications that can stop the cholesterol formation, absorption of cholesterol from the food or some drugs that can reabsorb the cholesterol from the arterial walls.
The Natural ways
- Exercises: Moderate exercises can reduce the LDL levels. Vigorous exercises that make you sweat can raise the good cholesterol level. Find time for exercise, at least 3-4 days a week, if not daily.
- Diet: Avoid food that has cholesterol, include plenty of healthy fruits and vegetables in the diet. They provide you fiber. Oats is a healthy option for the soluble fiber that can actually attach to the cholesterol and remove it from the system. Choose Olive oil, take omega fatty acids that help lower the cholesterol and drink at least 3 liters of water every day without fail.
- Manage stress: Find some ‘me’ time or find some ways to keep you happy and forget about the world for a few minutes. This can lower the stress hormones and avoid the dangers of stress. Meditation, yoga, laughter therapy etc are also good options to manage stress.
- Changes: Avoid alcohol if you can. Limit the consumption to just a glass a day. If you are a smoker, now is the best time and cause to quit smoking. There is no other go!
People with very high cholesterol levels or those with hereditary problems may have to take medications. The doctors would prescribe the right kind of medication for each person. The cause for high cholesterol in each person can be different and the treatment should also be done accordingly.
There are different types of medications that control cholesterol levels.
- Statin: Statin blocks some substance that inhibits the cholesterol formation inside the liver. Statins can also reduce the cholesterol build-ups by reabsorbing the plaque from the arterial walls.
- Resins: Certain types of resin are used to bind to the bile produced by the liver. The resin bound bile will be useless for digestion and the liver will be forced to utilize more cholesterol to make more bile.
- Cholesterol inhibitors: Some medicines can inhibit the absorption of cholesterol from the food.
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There also are medications that control the triglyceride levels. They include,
- Fibrates reduce the production of triglycerides and increase their expulsion
- Niacin also works in the same way that limits the production of LDL in the liver.
- Omega supplements can reduce the triglycerides and provide added benefits.
- Statins can also work to lower the higher triglyceride count in the blood.
We should not take the high cholesterol or the slightly-above-normal-cholesterol lightly. The effects are directly linked to the heart. Managing cholesterol is the first healthy way of protecting the heart. By reducing cholesterol we are taking one huge burden away from the heart. Since a better lifestyle and diet are part of the cholesterol management, it helps improve the general well being. It would also help you manage other diseases if you have any.